Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Year in Review

As this is the last day of the year, I'm going to take a look back at my blog over the last year (yea, I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago).

I read a lot of books this year.  Here is a list, click on the titles to read the review:
  1. Off Season Mass market fiction
  2. A Hint of Wicked Mass market historical romance
  3. Knight of Desire Mass Market historical romance
  4. Womenomics Non-fiction. Business, economics, motherhood
  5. No, Never! Children's
  6. Mom Needs Chocolate Christian devotional
  7. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Catholic Faith Catholic inspirational
  8. St. Gianna Beretta Molla: A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love Catholic biography
  9. My Forbidden Desire Mass market paranormal romance
  10. The I Believe Bunny Children's
  11. Worth a Thousand Words Christian fiction
  12. The Book of Life Catholic Biblical non-fiction
  13. Maggie Rose Christian fiction romance
  14. Love Equals Sacrifice Catholic memoir
  15. What the Bayou Saw Christian fiction
  16. Devil in Winter Mass market historical romance
  17. Talking to the Dead Christian fiction
  18. Veiled Freedom Christian fiction
  19. Following Mary to Jesus Catholic devotional
  20. Off the Beaten Path Non-fiction travel
  21. Morningsong Christian fiction
  22. The Wackiest Weirdest Wildest Animals Children's
  23. Seduce Me at Sunrise Mass market historical romance
  24. Enemies and Allies Fiction
  25. Chicken Soup: Power Moms Inspirational
  26. Old World Daughter, New World Mother Memoir
  27. Magnificat Catholic prayer
  28. If I Had You Christian fiction
  29. 100 Bible Stories 100 Bible Songs Children's
  30. The Middle Fork Mass market fiction
  31. Parenting is a Contact Sport Non-fiction, parenting
  32. Secrets of a Summer Night Mass market historical romance
  33. She's Out There Non-fiction, politics, women's studies
  34. Four Wives Mass Market fiction
  35. You Make Me Feel Like Dancing Christian Fiction
  36. The Playboy and the Widow Mass Market modern romance--clean
  37. Dance Me Daddy Children's
  38. Annie's Ghosts Memoir
  39. Daisy Chain Christian Fiction
  40. City of the Dead Christian fiction, historical
  41. Critical Care Christian fiction, romance
  42. A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church non-fiction, religion
  43. It Happened in Italy non-fiction, history
  44. A Passion Denied Christian Fiction, 1920's romance
  45. Mohamed's Moon Christian Fiction
  46. All of Me Mass Market romance, modern day
  47. The Sneakiest Pirate Children's
  48. The Heroes of Googley Woogley Children's
  49. Entertaining Angels Inspirational fiction
  50. Don't Bargain with the Devil Mass Market Romance, historical
  51. The Moment Between Christian Fiction
  52. Silver Birtches Christian Fiction
  53. The Noticer Inspirational
  54. A Gift of Grace Christian fiction (Amish)
  55. The Someday List Christian Fiction
  56. Great Adventures Kidpack Catholic childrens
  57. Along Came You Children's
  58. The Smartest Way to Save Non-fiction, Financial planning
  59. The Reluctant Cowgirl Christian Romance
  60. New York Debut Christian YA
  61. So Not Happening Christian YA
  62. Nell's Cowboy Harlequin Romance
  63. Jantsen's Gift Memoir
  64. The Note II Christian fiction
  65. The Note Christian fiction
  66. Mine Til Midnight Mass market historical fiction
  67. The Lake that Stole Children Children's
  68. Stop the Traffik Non-fiction
  69. Go Back and Be Happy Memoir
  70. Girls in Trucks Mass Market fiction
  71. His Name is Jesus Biblical non-fiction
  72. Flickering Pixels non-fiction, religion, media
  73. Sugar Daddy Mass market modern romance
  74. Lucky Child Memoir
  75. East Garrison Mass Market fiction
  76. The Manning Brides Mass Market modern romance. Pretty clean
  77. Fifty Is Not a Four-Letter Word Mass Market fiction
  78. New Hampshire Weddings Christian Romance
  79. Stranger in My Arms Mass Market Historical romance
  80. Suddenly You Mass Market Historical Romance
  81. Whittaker Family Reunion Historical fiction
  82. In the Footsteps of Paul Inspirational
  83. Yesterday's Embers Christian fiction
  84. Katt's in the Cradle Christian fiction
  85. You Turn--Changing Directions in Mid-life Non-fiction, self-determination
  86. Side-Yard Superhero Memoir
  87. So Long Status Quo Biography
  88. If Tomorrow Never Comes Christian fiction
  89. Bark Up the Right Tree Memoir of a dog
  90. It's A Green Thing YA Christian
  91. Potluck Club: Trouble Brewing Christian fiction
  92. Blue-Eyed Devil Mass Market Romance, Modern
  93. Only Uni Christian fiction
  94. The Measure of a Lady Christian fiction
  95. A Child's Promise Christian fiction, romance
  96. Family Matters Christian fiction, romance
  97. Last Mango in Texas Christian fiction, romance
  98. Animals In Translation Non-fiction, autism, animals
  99. Confessions of a Former Child Memoir
  100. The Lamb's Supper Catholic Biblical
  101. Daniel's Den Christian fiction
  102. The God I Don't Understand Christian Biblical
  103. The Broken Parachute Man Mass Market fiction
  104. Sunday Brunch Christian fiction
  105. Red White and Blue Christian Fiction
  106. Age Before Beauty Christian fiction
  107. The Husband Project Christian, non-fiction, marriage
  108. The Gift of Psalms Christian, Biblical, Prayer
  109. The Puzzle Bark Tree fiction
  110. Scrapping Plans Christian fiction
  111. Gingham Mountain Christian romance
  112. Lost in Las Vegas YA Christian fiction
  113. The Spring of Candy Apples YA Christian fiction
  114. This Side of Heaven Christian fiction
  115. The Flavor Bible Cookbook
  116. Surviving Financial Meltdown Non-Fiction, financial planning
  117. Milk Money Christian short romance
  118. John's Quest Christian short romance
  119. Emily's Hope Catholic fiction
  120. Blood Lines Christian Fiction, thriller
  121. Rex Memoir, Special needs kids
  122. The Red Siren Christian fiction, romance
  123. Blood of the Lambs Christian non-fiction, Islam
  124. Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart mass-market fiction
  125. The Basic Book of Digital Photography non-fiction
  126. Ciao Italia Five Ingredient  Cookbook
  127. The Haunted Rectory Catholic fiction
  128. The First Christmas ABC Book Children's
  129. Home to Holly Springs Mass-Market Christian Fiction
  130. Mrs. Meyer's Clean Home Non-fiction
  131. When the Heart Cries Amish Fiction
  132. The Smart One and the Pretty One mass market fiction
  133. The Broken Road non-fiction
  134. Stop It! Children's
  135. More than a Match Christian non-fiction about marriage
  136. Elmer the Christmas Elf Children's
  137. For Faithful Friends Children's
  138. Inside Out Children's
  139. Visions of Sugar Plums Cookbook (e-book)
  140. The Living End Christian fiction
  141. White Picket Fences Christian fiction
  142. Sanctuary Mass Market romance
  143. It Happened One Night Mass Market romance
  144. Children of Dust non-fiction memoir
  145. Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie Montanta Christian romance
  146. The Church Ladies Christian fiction
  147. Chocolate A Love Story Cookbook
  148. Thirsty Mass Market Fiction
  149. Can God Be Trusted? Catholic spirituality
  150. Leaving Carolina Christian fiction
  151. Bear Portraits non-fiction coffee table book
  152. One Hundred Butterflies non-fiction coffee table book
  153. Jack Daniels Spirit of Tennessee cookbook
  154. Cheating Death non-fiction
  155. When Everything Changed non-fiction
  156. Permission Slips non-fiction
  157. Laceyville Monkeys children's
  158. Jack's Dreams Come True children's
  159. Love is a Battlefield Christian romance
  160. The Jewel of His Heart Christian romance
  161. A Cedar Cove Christmas mass market fiction
  162. The Matchmakers Mass market romance (clean)
  163. This Matter of Marriage Mass Market romance (clean)
  164. How to Roast a Lamb Cookbook
  165. The Sound of Sleigh Bells Amish fiction
  166. Letters to Rosy Mass Market Fiction
  167. Be Holy Catholic spirituality
  168. Piece de Resistance Christian fiction
  169. Messy Tessy Children's 
  170. Nibble & Kuhn Mass Market fiction
  171. Social Lives Mass market fiction
  172. A Slow Burn Christian fiction
  173. Amish Peace Amish non-fiction
  174. Double Cross Christian fiction-thriller
  175. Seaside Letters Christian romance
  176. A Taste of Fame Christian fiction
  177. The Potluck Club Cookbook Cookbook
  178. The Great Christmas Bowl Christian fiction
  179. Succeeding in High School non-fiction
  180. Sportscaster's Guide to Watching Football non-fiction
  181. The Green Green Pear children's
  182. Death of a Pope Catholic fiction (thriller)
  183. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  mass market fiction
  184. Cottonwood Whispers Christian fiction
  185. Cowboy Christmas Christian romance
  186. Plain Promise Amish romance
  187. Mrs. Miracle Mass market romance (clean)
  188. Stray Affections Christian fiction
  189. Three Weddings and a Bar Mitzvah Christian fiction
  190. Never the Bride Christian romance
  191. Sacred Hearts mass market fiction
  192. Cult Insanity non-fiction memoir
  193. Cousin's Prayer Amish romance
  194. Fire of God's Love Catholic spirituality
  195. Already Gone Christian non-fiction re religious practice
  196. The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper Christian romance
  197. Rose House Christian fiction
  198. Visions of America Mass Market non-fiction coffee table book
  199. Aurora of the Northern Lights Children's
  200. Bon Appetite Christian fiction/romance
  201. Holy Bullet Mass market fiction--thriller
  202. The Believer Christian romance
  203. Wally the Walking Fish Children's
  204. Indigo Awakening non-fiction memoir
  205. Blue Star Mass Market romance YA
  206. Wounded by School non-fiction
  207. The Moon Looked Down mass market romance (pretty clean)
  208. Read and Share Toddler Bible Children's
  209. Turkey's Treat Children's
  210. Cookie Children's
  211. The Passion of Mary Margaret Christian fiction
  212. Masonry Unmasked Catholic non-fiction
  213. Davey Bighead Children's
  214. Hope of Refuge Amish fiction
  215. Twenty Wishes Mass market romantic fiction
  216. The Blue Enchantress Christian romance
  217. June Bug Christian fiction
  218. The Divorce Party Mass market fiction
  219. Her Name Was Beauty Children's
  220. Things Left Unspoken Christian fiction
  221. A Man of His Word Amish fiction
  222. Benny and Shrimp Mass Market fiction/romantic
  223. Perserverance non-fiction memoirs
  224. Snow Melts in Spring Christian romance
  225. The Last Sin Eater Christian fiction
  226. The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut non-fiction
  227. Surprised by Canon Law Catholic
  228. Falling Into the Sun mass market fiction
  229. Too Too Many Tutus Children's
  230. The Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love Christian fiction
  231. Sunset Beach Christian fiction
  232. How to Score Mass Market romance
  233. Five Minutes with the Child Jesus Catholic childrens
  234. Montana Rose Christian romance
  235. Imposter's Daughter Graphic memoir
  236. Ransome's Honour Christain romance

Totals: (approximate)
Christian fiction (the main plot is something other than just a romance, though there may be a romantic element)46
Christian romance 25
Mass-Market romance (usually includes racy scenes, but I note when it doesn't--check my reviews to see how racy)20
Catholic: 15
Mass Market fiction (main plot is something other than romance)10
Children's 27
Memoirs 10

I enjoyed my year in reading, but suspect I'll slow the pace in 2010.

    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    Medical Math

    Several months ago I started getting a shooting pain in my shoulder/arm when I stretched and reached toward extremes of range of motion.  It didn't get worse, but didn't get better either and finally I decided to see my doctor about it, more from a sense of not wanting to be sorry later that I didn't treat something while it was treatable than because it was bothering me all that much.  It still didn't get better and she sent me to an orthopedist, who sent me for physical therapy.  Luckily, whether it was the PT, or because enough time passed, I improved and was discharged after three one-hour sessions.

    The physical therapist was very nice and I have no complaints about her work.  She saw me three times, for a little less than an hour each time.  She started by applying heat to my shoulder.  She then instructed me in some exercises and watched me do them.  When I finished the exercises, she iced my shoulder and then applied some patch that used electrical current to push anti-inflammatory medicine into the muscle.  While she was seeing me, she also had another patient there, and she would alternate her attention between us.  I had no problem with that either; it seemed a more efficient use of her time than sitting there watching me read a magazine while my shoulder warmed or cooled, or counting while I did exercises I already knew how to do.  I paid a small co-payment on my way into the office, and my insurance was billed for the rest.  While I didn't know the exact amount, I figured that it would probably be in the $100 range.  Since she had another patient there at the same time that would give her a $200/hr billing rate, which is more than some lawyers in my office charge.  A week or so ago I got the bill.  It was over $1300, or more than $400 per session.  Today I got the  EOB from my insurance company.  Between my co-pay and what they paid, the total actually paid was......a little over $300.00.  I just don't get medical math.  I can't think of any other business that would send out a bill for $1,300, get paid $300.00 and be happy with that.

    Sunday, December 27, 2009

    Advent Calendar

    Please join me and other bloggers in the Advent Calendar put together by Catholic Roundup.

    A Rose by the Door--My Review

    A Rose by the Door  I've enjoyed several of Deborah Bedford's books, and my friend Renee was kind enough to send me this one after she read it.  If you like my blog, try hers, she reads similar books and we often share the same opinion of books we both read.

    A Rose by the Door is the story of two women.  Bea was the mother of Nathan, and the book opens with the police showing up at her door to tell her he is dead/  Gemma was Nathan's wife.  Since Nathan had left home years ago, angry at his mother, they had never met until Gemma showed up at Bea's door after Nathan's death.  Gemma has a daughter who is not Nathan's son.  This is the story of the relationship that develops between the women and the story of Bea's faith.

    A Rose by the Door is a beautiful well-written book.  It is Christian fiction and has the stereotypical "salvation" scene.  Bea's relationship with God is a major part of the story as well.  Still, I think it is a story that someone without Christian beliefs could enjoy.

    To order from Amazon:  A Rose by the Door

    Saving Cicadas by Nicole Seitz: My Review

    About the Book:  When single mother Priscilla Lynn Macy learns she's having another child unexpectedly, she packs the family into the car to escape. Eight-year-old Janie and Rainey Dae, her seventeen-year-old sister with special needs, embark on the last family vacation they'll ever take with Poppy and Grandma Mona in the back seat.
    The trip seems aimless until Janie realizes they are searching for the father who left them years ago. When they can't find him, they make their way to Forest Pines, SC. Priscilla hasn't been to her family home in many years and finds it a mixed blessing of hope, buried secrets, and family ghosts.
    Through eyes of innocence, Janie learns the hard realities of life and the difficult choices grownups make. And she must face disturbing truths about the people she loves in order to carry them in the moments that matter most.

    My Thoughts:  Usually when I read a book I sit down almost immediately to write a review--a short summary of the plot along with my thoughts about the book--did I like it?  Why?  Why not?  I couldn't do that with this book.  Every time I thought about a summary, I wrote spoilers.  While reading the book I moved from loving it, to not, and then back loving it. So, what should I say?  It is a book far more about characters than plot.  It has a strong pro-life message.  It is fiction, but if you believe that what happened in the novel really could happen, then you espouse a theology incompatible with the beliefs of most Christians--but as a literary work, the story does work, it is effective.  The author, in a note at the end of the book does tell the reader she used literary license and that she doesn't believe the story could really happen.  The book is Christian fiction and despite what I said in the previous sentence, it does promote traditional Christian values, particularly the value of life.

    The story is told in the voices of Janie, who is eight and a half, and Mona, who is her grandmother.  Sometimes I needed to check the beginning of the chapter to see who was talking, but again, on the whole, the technique worked.   

    So, would I recommend the book?  Yes.  Upon further reflection, I loved it, and I think my readers will too.

    To purchase from Amazon (and give me a small commission):Saving Cicadas

    Thanks to the Thomas Nelson blogger program for providing a complimentary review copy.  You can read other reviews here.

    Saturday, December 26, 2009

    Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

    Merry Christmas and welcome to another edition of Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of bloggers who gather once each week to share out best posts. We are all Catholic and blog at least somewhat about Catholic things; some do so exclusively, others only periodically. All are welcome to participate here.

    To join in the fun, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In that post describe and link to any posts you want to share with the rest of us. Also put in a link to this post. Then come back here, and sign Mr. Linky and give us a link to your post. Finally, go visit other people's posts, and leave comments! Some folks who don't post often have asked if they could, rather than creating a special "Sunday Snippets" post, just link their original post to Mr. Linky. That's ok, if your original post includes a link back here; since the idea is to share our posts and readers with each other.  Remember, if you add your link to Mr. Linky, you should have a post sending folks to this post.  Encourage your readers to join us too.

    If you want a weekly reminder to post, please subscribe to our yahoogroup.

    I haven't blogged much this week, but do invite you to enjoy my little lamb a/k/a my five year old.  For once, I actually enjoyed the Children's Mass.

    See also my post on Epiphany.

    Add your link to Mr. Linky, and have a blessed New Year!

    Epiphany Links

    I'm going to be lazy.  Instead of rewriting lat year's post, I'm just going to link to it.

    Thursday, December 24, 2009

    Happy Birthday Dear Jesus!

    Given that we have a young child in the family, the Children's Mass is a given here on Christmas Eve--but I'll let you in on a secret--I generally hate it.  Oh, I've had at least my share of turns to be proud Mom as my kids have been in the pageant, or read, or otherwise done something at the Children's Mass, but still, the church is crowded, the atmosphere often less than reverent, and you have to be there so early or you end up standing in the back.  I don't know exactly what was different about this year, but I really felt like I'd been to church when it was over, rather than to the playground.

    The pageant took the place of the Gospel reading, and except for a few words by Father, the homily as well.  The story was read from the ambo, and the kids in costume came up one of the aisles and gathered around the manger.  With each group that came up (Mary & Joseph, shepherds & sheep, angels, and wise men) a different carol was sung by the choir and folks were asked to join in.  After everyone was up there, they sang Happy Birthday to Jesus and then, to the tune of Jingle Bells, something like Ring, Ring, Ring the Bells....and tell the world that Jesus Christ is Born!

    The star of the photos here is my five year old.  She was one of the lambs.

    Since I was in charge of the readers--making sure they got up to the ambo when it was their turn to read--I had a good seat only a few rows back, and there was actually some space between me and the folks next to me.  After the pageant, my daughter came and sat with me. She took to heart the choir director's admonition to the kids to sing loudly.  I took those photos from my seat, and my husband and big kids were sitting near that glass wall with the wreaths on it--in other words on the other side of the church.  The Communion song was Little Drummer Boy and they could clearly hear the little one singing "Pa Rum pa pa pum".  The people around us told her how nice she sounded @@

    After mass we went home.  I had dinner in the crock-pot so got home and put dinner on the table.  We'll open gifts from family tonite, and the gifts from Santa tomorrow morning. We'll head to my family tomorrow where my kids will get too much stuff.

    Merry Christmas!

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    Mailbox Monday

    I haven't done Mailbox Monday in a while, but thought I'd jump back in the fray this week.   The Choicewhich is an Amish novel, is for a Revel blog tour.  I enjoyed it, and it was a little different than many of the Amish novels I've read.  It is by the same author as Amish Peace, which I read a few months ago.

     For a First Wildcard tour I received The Courteous Cad (Miss Pickworth).

    The nice folks at Phenix & Phenix sent me Mr. Darcy Broke My 
    Heart by Beth Pattillo.  You can read my review here.

    Check out Mailbox Monday on Marcia's blog to see what other book bloggers got this week!

    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart: My Review

    I must be the only book blogger out there who has never read anything by Jane Austen.  I've read enough about her to know that Mr. Darcy was one of her romantic heroes but before I read this book I couldn't have told you in which of her books he appeared, or whether he was a good guy or a bad guy.  When Phenix & Phenix offered me a complimentary review copy, I accepted because I recognized the author's name and really enjoyed her Sweetgum books, not because I was a huge Austen fan who could hardly wait to read more about her characters.

    The main character in this book is Claire, a woman in her thirties who has spent her life doing for others.  Her parents died when she was eighteen and she got a job to support her sister, rather than allowing her sister to be put in the care of someone else.  Of course, that meant that she didn't get to go to college.  Her sister did go, became a teacher, married and had two kids.  At the beginning of this book she was pregnant with the third.  Her sister had planned to go to Oxford (that's the university in England) that summer to present a paper about Pride and Prejudice.  Claire ends up going in her place.  While there she meets a man who reminds her of Mr. Darcy.  She also meets a woman who claims to have the lost original draft of Pride and Prejudice.  This woman feeds her the draft chapter by chapter, and we get to read it along with Claire.  Since I've never read Pride and Prejudice I'm sure I didn't "get" the differences in the same way a fan would, however Claire does explain the differences between this "original" and the final.

    I've heard it said that the difference in a good book and a great one is that the good ones entertain us while the great ones, along with entertaining is, cause us to learn something about ourselves.  Hearing the other people in her seminar present papers on Pride and Prejudice, reading the "original" and talking to the custodian thereof, as well as things that happen to her while she is there, cause Claire to take a look at her life, where she is, how she got there, and where she wants to go from there.  I really enjoyed taking this journey with her and highly recommend Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart.  It may not have the long-term appeal of Pride and Prejudice but it did get me thinking about some aspects of my life, and it was a good entertaining read.

    It will be published in February, but you can order a copy now on

    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

    Well, they say all good things must end, and unfortunately tonite a very good thing ended; the New Orleans Saints' hopes for an undefeated season.  As they say though, wait until next time!

    Hi, and welcome to another edition of Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of bloggers who gather once each week to share out best posts. We are all Catholic and blog at least somewhat about Catholic things; some do so exclusively, others only periodically. All are welcome to participate here.

    To join in the fun, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In that post describe and link to any posts you want to share with the rest of us. Also put in a link to this post. Then come back here, and sign Mr. Linky and give us a link to your post. Finally, go visit other people's posts, and leave comments! Some folks who don't post often have asked if they could, rather than creating a special "Sunday Snippets" post, just link their original post to Mr. Linky. That's ok, if your original post includes a link back here; since the idea is to share our posts and readers with each other. Encourage your readers to join us too.

    If you want a weekly reminder to post, please subscribe to our yahoogroup.

    I do a semi-regular feature called "From My Reader" in which I link to posts that catch my eye while I am going through my Google Reader.  A couple of them this week were about things Catholic.

    I read to my five year old on a regular basis but rarely review kids books unless they are sent to me for that purpose.  However, one she brought home from school was good enough to share, so I did.  It is a Christmas  ABC book.

    A novel about a haunted rectory may be pushing the definition of "Catholic" however, I enjoyed the book and thought you might too.  The author, Katherine Valentine, has a new book featured on the Catholic website.

    May you and yours have a very merry and blessed Christmas!

    Keep Christ in Christmas Activities for Kids

    Apples4theteacher appears to be a site designed for teachers and has coloring sheets, poems, songs and more. It looks like there is quite a bit here, but you have to hunt a little.

    Coloring Book Fun has coloring pages for a lot of things, including religious Christmas pages.

    Resources for Catholic Educators links to coloring pages too.

    A Google search for Christmas coloring sheets will give you lots of options, but check them out before turning the kids loose--some are anti-Catholic.

    CatholicMom has lots of ideas to keep the little ones busy.

    Catholic Culture gives us Christmas morning prayers and evening prayers.

    Catechetical Resources, from the publishers of the Faith and Life religion books give us Christmas activities for the brain as well as fun things to do.

    Check your child's grade on Sadlier's website and find a Christmas activity for his/her age group.

    Preschool kids will like this site.

    Domestic Church has several Christmas activities.

    The ladies over at Catholic Cuisine are bound to have something good to cook for Christmas.

    Christian Resources has a section on Christmas Activities for kids.  Since the site isn't Catholic, parents should review it before setting the little ones loose, but some are really cute.

    Christian Crafters is another non-Catholic site.  This one has active games with Christmas themes.

    Of course the most necessary part of celebrating Christmas is celebrating Sunday mass with the community. The web gives us lots of resources to help children understand the weekly readings. The publishers of the Faith First religion texts have weekly summaries, discussion topics and activities based on the readings. Sadlier has a similar site.

    May you and yours enjoy a very merry Christmas and Blessed New Year.

    Review: The Basic Book of Digital Photograpy

    I found another book for my keeper shelf.  The Basic Book of Digital Photography is a great reference book for any digital photographer (except perhaps a professional).  It covers everything from selecting a camera, to how a digital camera works, how to set up shots, how (and why) to manipulate all those buttons on the camera, what accessories to buy, photo editing software and printing.  While some of the advise seems a bit on the obvious side, the book is laid out with subheadings that make skimming for the information you need (and skipping what you already know) easy.  The writing is clear without being dumbed-down and, unlike some other books I've read, this one doesn't assume you have professional style equipment, nor does it suggest that you should.

    I had planned on accompanying this post with a few pointers from the book, along with some photos I took showing the auto mode vs. setting it as told, but my five year old has been playing with my camera and none of the menus work, so all I'd do is change from one pre-set mode to another.  Oh well, at least it still takes good pictures.

    Thanks again to the folks at FSB for sending me a complimentary review copy.  You can buy one at  The Basic Book of Digital Photography: How to Shoot, Enhance, and Share Your Digital Pictures.  To get an idea of the writing style in the book, read the articles I posted on Cell Phone Photography and Ten Top Tips for Dynamite Digital Photography.

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    Ciao Italia Five Ingredient Favorites

    I enjoy cooking when I have the time, but all too often, I just don't have the time.  I also have to admit that I don't like having to wash every dish in the kitchen after I get done cooking.  When Ciao Italia Five Ingredient Favorites became available as a review book, I requested one, figuring "How much mess can you make with only five ingredients?"

    The first recipe I tried was for a lemon chicken.  The five ingredients were chicken, lemons, parsley, olive oil, and oregano.  The author, Mary Ann Espositio, doesn't count salt and pepper as ingredients, but most recipes call for them.  I enjoyed the lemon chicken as did my husband, but the kids said it tasted too much like lemon (go figure).

    The book itself is visually attractive, with full-color illustrations.  However, there are far more recipes for which there are no photographs, than those for which there are.  The pages with recipes have a stripe on the outside edge which contains the ingredient list and then the instructions are on the inside of the page.  Sections include Antipasti, Soups, Pasta, Sauces, Meat and Poultry, Fish, Vegetables, Salads, Sweets and Five-Course Meals.

    The nice folks at FSB Media, from whom I received a complimentary review copy of this book, have allowed me to share the following recipes with you.  If they look like your kind of food, you can buy the book from Amazon Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites: Quick and Delicious Recipes from an Italian Kitchen

    Spaghetti alla Carbonara 
    Coal Miners'-Style Spaghetti
    by Mary Ann Esposito,
    Author of Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites: Quick and Delicious Recipes from an Italian Kitchen

    Just about everyone I know has a recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara. This simple but heavenly dish is said to get its name from the coal miners who could make it easily with readily available ingredients: eggs, cheese, and guanciale, cured and salted pig's jowl and cheeks. A likely story, but the fact is that this dish is easy to make, superb when made correctly, and a completely balanced meal. The eggs should be of the highest quality and at room temperature so they will mix well with the spaghetti. The cheese should be none other than the true Parmigiano-Reggiano, or pecorino Romano. Today, the more readily available pancetta is used in place of guanciale. And a pepper mill is absolutely essential for the right grind of black pepper.
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 4 ounce chunk pancetta, diced
      Fine sea salt
    • ½ pound spaghetti
    • 3 large eggs, at room temperature and lightly beaten
    • ¾ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
      Coarsely ground black pepper
    Heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan, stir in the pancetta, and cook until crispy. Set aside the pancetta, still in the pan, and keep it warm.

    Cook the spaghetti in 4 quarts of rapidly boiling salted water. Al dente means still firm to the bite but no uncooked flour is visible in the center when a strand of the spaghetti is broken in half.

    Drain the spaghetti, reserving 2 tablespoons of the water. Immediately return the spaghetti to the pot and, keeping the heat very low, rapidly stir in the eggs, reserved water, and half the cheese. Toss to combine. Add the reserved pancetta and any pan drippings. Stir well. Add a generous grinding of coarse black pepper. Transfer the pasta to a platter and sprinkle it with the remaining cheese. Serve immediately.
    Serves 4 

    Polpettoni al Formaggio
    Cheesy Stuffed Meatballs
    by Mary Ann Esposito,
    Author of Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites: Quick and Delicious Recipes from an Italian Kitchen

    Can you make a better-tasting meatball? Absolutely! Just stuff them with a creamy, melting cheese like Italian fontina! This may be a slightly unconventional way to make them, but the taste elevates the meatballs to elegant; they can be served alone or in a tomato sauce. To achieve great flavor, use a combination of ground chuck and ground sirloin. The fat in ground chuck is essential for moistness while the sirloin provides great texture.

    • ½ cup good-quality dried bread crumbs
    • ⅓ cup heavy cream or half-and-half
    • ½ pound ground chuck
    • ½ pound ground sirloin
      1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
      Coarsely ground black pepper
    • ½ pound Italian fontina or mozzarella cheese, cut into 8 small pieces
    Preheat the oven to 350°F.

    Put the bread crumbs in a medium bowl and pour the cream over them. Mix with a fork; the mixture will not be soupy.

    Add the ground chuck, sirloin, and salt and pepper. Mix with a fork or your hands just to combine the ingredients. Divide the mixture into 8 equal pieces and roll each in the palms of your hands to make compact 2½-inch balls.

    Insert your thumb into the middle of each meatball and push in a piece of cheese. Close the meatball, encasing the cheese, and smooth the top.

    Place the meatballs on a rimmed, nonstick baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are nicely browned. Serve hot as is, or add them to a tomato sauce and serve them with pasta or as a second course.

    Makes 8 meatballs 

    The above is an excerpt from the book Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites: Quick and Delicious Recipes from an Italian Kitchen by Mary Ann Esposito. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
    Copyright © 2009 Mary Ann Esposito, author of Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites: Quick and Delicious Recipes from an Italian Kitchen

    First Wildcard: Tales of the Heart

    It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

    You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

    Today's Wild Card author is:

    and the book:

    Tales of the Heart (3-in-1 Collection: Bridget’s Bargain; Kate Ties the Knot; Follow the Leader)

    Whitaker House (January 2010)

    ***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***


    A prolific writer, Loree Lough has more than seventy-one books, sixty-three short stories, and 2,500 articles in print. Her stories have earned dozens of industry and Reader’s Choice awards. A frequent guest speaker for writers’ organizations, book clubs, private and government institutions, corporations, college and high school writing programs, and more, Loree has encouraged thousands with her comedic approach to “learned-the-hard-way” lessons about the craft and industry. Loree and her husband split their time between Baltimore suburbs and a cabin in the Allegheny Mountains.

    Visit the author's website.

    Product Details:

    List Price: $9.99
    Paperback: 400 pages
    Publisher: Whitaker House (January 2010)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 1603741674
    ISBN-13: 978-1603741675 :


    Magnolia Grange, south of Richmond, Virginia


    Chapter One

    “It’s hard to believe you’ve been with us four years, Bridget.”

    Winking one thick-lashed blue eye, the maid grinned. “Aye, Mr. Auburn.” She blew a tendril of flaming red hair away from her eye and secured a gigantic white satin bow to the railing. “Time has passed like a runaway engine.”

    Fumbling with his collar, Chase chuckled. “You’ve always been a joy to have in the house, and your way with words is but one of the reasons.”

    Bridget slid the ribbon up and down until it exactly matched the height of the decoration on the other side of the porch. In response to the great gulp of air he took in, she straightened from her work. “Were you this nervous the first time you were a bridegroom, sir?”

    He leaned a shoulder against the pillar nearest him. “To tell the truth, I don’t recall.” And, raising both brows imploringly, he pointed at the lopsided knot at his throat. “Would you mind…?”

    She stepped up to the man who’d been more of a big brother than an employer to her these past years. “Wouldn’t mind a bit.” And to think that during her long sea voyage from Ireland to Virginia, she’d envisioned him a brute and a monster!

    Standing on tiptoe, Bridget repaired the damage he’d done to his black string tie. “There, now,” she said, brushing imaginary lint from his broad shoulders, “that’s got it.”

    His hand trembling, he dug a gold watch from his pocket. “The guests will begin arriving soon. Is everything—?”

    “All’s well, Mr. Auburn, so I pray ye’ll relax. Else ye’ll need another bath!” Gathering her bow-making materials, Bridget hustled through the front door. From the other side of the screen, she said, “I’ve a few things to see to in the kitchen, and then I’ll be lookin’ in on yer bride-to-be.” She started toward the parlor, then stopped and faced him again. “Mr. Auburn, sir?”

    He stopped rubbing his temples to say, “Yes?”

    “I set aside a pitcher of lemonade. Might be just the thing to calm your nerves. Now, why don’t you settle down there while I fetch you a nice tall glass?”

    As she made her way toward the kitchen, she heard the unmistakable squeak of the porch swing. “Hard to believe you ever thought that dear, sweet man capable of beating his servants bloody.”

    “What’s that?”

    Scissors, ribbons, needles, and thread flew into the air, then rained down upon her at the sound of the rich, masculine voice. “Goodness gracious, sakes alive!” she gasped, hands flattened to her chest. “You just shaved ten years off m’life!”

    “Sorry,” said the tall intruder. “Didn’t mean to frighten you.”

    Rolling her eyes, Bridget stooped to retrieve the fallen articles. “No harm done, I suppose.” Then, narrowing one eye, she sent him a half smile. “Provided you help me clean up the mess ye’re responsible for.”

    Immediately, he was on his hands and knees, and once they’d untangled the ribbon, she put it all in the linen cupboard. “Don’t recall seein’ you around here before.”

    “Just arrived last evening.” He nodded toward the barn. “I’m bunking in the loft. Chase…uh, Mr. Auburn is hoping I can improve the lineage of his quarter horses.”

    “Ah,” she said, returning the sewing supplies to their proper shelf, “so you’re the new stable hand we’ve all been hearing about.” Dusting off her hands, she started up the stairs, stopping on the bottom step to give him a quick once-over. “Don’t know why, but I thought you’d be older.”

    Leaning both burly arms on the newel post, he frowned slightly. “The proper title is ‘stable master’.”

    “Is that a fact, Mr. Big-for-His-Britches?” Grinning good-naturedly, she added, “Tack whatever fancy name ye choose to the work. You’re still the hired help, same as me, ’cept you’re likely more at home with a muck shovel in your hand than a mop or broom.”

    For a moment, a look of embarrassment darkened his handsome face, but, to his credit, he shook it off. “It’s honest work, and the horses are my full responsibility, so they might as well be my very own.”

    She scrutinized him carefully. “All right, then, so you’ve got the master’s horses, but have ye the horse sense to go with ’em?” Halfway up the curving staircase, she leaned over the landing banister. “And what might your name be, Mr. I’m-So-Sure-of-Myself…just so I’m sure to address you properly next time we meet?”

    “Lance,” he said. “Lance York.”

    Bridget’s smile disappeared. “You’re—you’re English?”

    Another nod. “But only half.” The frown above his gray eyes deepened. “Why do you look as though you’ve just smelled something unpleasant? Is there something wrong with being English?”

    Only if you’re a poor tenant farmer in County Donegal, Ireland, she thought, continuing up the stairs. Since they both worked for Mr. Auburn, she’d likely run into this fellow often, and she had no intention of behaving like one of those uppity town girls who were so difficult to get along with. “Well,” she said coolly, “I suppose we all have to be something, now, don’t we?”

    Her peripheral vision told her he hadn’t budged as she reached the next landing. Bridget would not allow herself to look at him. What, and give him the satisfaction of knowing an Englishman had humiliated yet another Irishman? Not in a million Sundays!

    Bridget hurried up the remaining stairs and set her mind on seeing what, if anything, Drewry might need, because in no time at all, she’d become Mrs. Chase Auburn. No doubt she’d be at least as fidgety as her bridegroom.

    Funny, she thought, how folks tend to pair off at weddings. Most of the servants had spouses to accompany them to the shindig. All but Bridget and the hired hands’ children. More’s the pity the stableman has the blood of those thievin’ English flowin’ in his veins, she thought, ’cause he’d make a right handsome companion….


    Bridget watched as the servants and hired hands of Magnolia Grange raced around, putting the finishing touches on the wedding preparations. How handsome they all looked dressed in their regal best, thanks to Chase Auburn’s generosity.

    She remembered the day, not so long ago, when he’d stood beside the big buckboard, ushering every member of his staff into the back of the vehicle, oblivious to their slack-jawed, wide-eyed protests. “Magnolia Grange has survived locusts and storms and the Civil War, so I hardly think our little trip into town will cause its ruination.” Grabbing the reins, he’d added, “When we get to Richmond, every last one of you will choose a proper wedding outfit. And remember, money is no object.”

    The wagon wheels had ground along the gritty road, drowning out the shocked whispers of his hired help. “Been with that boy since he was born,” Matilda had said behind a wrinkled black hand, “an’ I ain’t never seen him smile so bright.”

    “I do believe he done lost his mind, Matty,” Simon had said. “This is gonna cost a fortune.”

    “You just worry ’bout tending the fields,” she’d shot back, “an’ let Mistah Chase worry ’bout what he can afford.”

    In town, the maid, the housekeeper, the foreman, and the field hands had quickly discovered that every Richmond shopkeeper had been instructed to put the suits, gowns, shoes, and baubles chosen by Auburn employees on Chase’s personal account. At first, they’d shied away from quality materials, picking through the bins for dresses of cotton and shirts of muslin. Until Chase had gotten wind of their frugality, that is.

    “You’ll not attend my wedding dressed like that!” he’d gently admonished them, snatching a pair of dungarees from Claib’s hands. Holding some gabardine trousers in front of the tall, thin man, he’d said, “You’ve earned this.” Then, looking at each employee in turn, he had said, “You’ve all earned this. Why, Magnolia Grange wouldn’t be what it is without you!” With that, he’d disappeared into the bustling Richmond street.

    Now, Bridget stepped into the full-skirted gown she’d chosen that day at Miss Dalia’s Dress Shop. Ma’s cameo would have looked lovely at the throat, she thought, buttoning its high, lace-trimmed collar. But the pin had long ago been handed over to the ruthless landlord Conyngham when he’d raised the rent yet again.

    Slipping into slippers made from fabric the same shade of pink as the dress, Bridget recalled that in one of her mother’s leather-bound volumes—before Conyngham had demanded those, too—she’d seen a pen-and-ink sketch of a ballerina. According to the book, ballet originated in Renaissance Italy, where, as the nobility began to see themselves as superior to the peasantry, they rejected the robust and earthy steps of traditional dance. Emulating the slower, statelier movements of the ballerinas, they believed, accentuated their own elegance. Her arms forming a graceful circle over her head, the beautiful lady’s torso had curved gently to the right. Her dark hair had been pulled back tightly from her face, and on her head had been a tiny, sparkling crown. Long, shapely legs had peeked out from beneath a gauzy, knee-length gown, and on her feet had been satin slippers.

    Smiling at the memory, Bridget stood at the mirror. Gathering her cinnamony hair atop her head, she secured it with a wide ribbon that matched her shoes. Lifting her skirt, she stuck out her right foot and, looking about to see if she were truly alone, grinned as mischief danced in her eyes. How long had it been since she’d struck this particular ballerina pose? Five years? Six? Then, feeling both giddy and girlish, Bridget covered her face with both hands and giggled. Ye’d better count yer blessin’s that nobody can see you, Bridget McKenna, for they’d cart y’off to the loony bin, to be sure!

    The big grandfather clock in the hall began counting out the hour. Goodness gracious me, she thought, hurrying to the door, how can it be midday already? And with only an hour till the weddin’!

    When Bridget entered Drewry’s room, she found the bride standing in front of a big, oval mirror like the one in her own room, smiling as Matilda pinned a white poinsettia in her long, dark hair. “You do make a lovely bride,” said the housekeeper. “Mistah Chase be one lucky fella, gettin’ a wife as fetchin’ as you.”

    Blushing, Drewry hugged the woman. “Thank you, Matilda. But I’m the lucky one.”

    “Not lucky,” Bridget said, closing the door behind her. “Blessed.”

    The curious glances exchanged by the bride and housekeeper told Bridget that her interruption had stunned them. True, she’d never been overly chatty, but lately….

    Several months ago, Mr. Auburn had walked into the kitchen as she’d been ciphering. When she’d admitted that she’d saved almost enough to send for her family, he’d promised to find work for her father and four siblings. And just this morning, a little more ciphering told Bridget that in six months, maybe eight, she’d finally have what she needed to bring them here from Ireland. If that didn’t put her in a chatty mood, a wedding was sure to do it!

    “You’re so right,” Drewry said, grasping Bridget’s hand. “Luck had nothing to do with it. It was the good Lord who brought Chase and me together.”

    “And He’ll keep you together, too.”

    “Seems our gal here know as much about the Good Book as anyone,” Matilda said.

    Bridget remembered another day, not long after her arrival at Magnolia Grange, when Mr. Auburn had invited her to join the family in prayer. “How many times must I tell you, Bridget McKenna,” he’d thundered, “that it’s not a sin to read the Scriptures!” He’d picked up the large, leather-bound Bible and opened it for the household’s morning devotions. On the other side of the big, wooden table, Bridget had begun to weep. It had been Drewry, the children’s nanny, who had passed her a lace-edged hanky.

    “But Mr. Auburn, sir,” she’d cried, “my ma taught us that readin’ the Holy Scriptures is a sin and a crime. Learnin’ like that…it’s only for the clergy, who are blessed by God to understand what they read.” Trembling, she’d hidden her face in Drewry’s hanky. “Oh, please, sir…I don’t want to go to hell!”

    Softening his tone, Chase had said, “I hate to disagree with your sweet mother, but I’m afraid she was mistaken.”

    His comment had only served to cause a fresh torrent of tears, inspiring Drewry to scoot along the bench and drape an arm around Bridget. “Mr. Auburn is right, Bridget,” she’d said, her dark eyes shining and sweet voice soothing. “Our reading the Scriptures pleases God. Why else would He have given them to us?”

    Bridget stopped crying and studied Drewry’s face. “But…how d’ye know for sure that it’s true, ma’am?”

    “Because the Lord Jesus Himself said, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ “You see, going to church on Sunday and hearing about Jesus is but one way of growing closer to the Lord. Reading His Word for ourselves, why, there’s no better way!” And from that moment on, life at Magnolia Grange had changed for Bridget. Having access to the comfort of God’s Word was a key that unlocked a world of hope.

    “So, what you think, li’l Miss Bridget?” Matilda said. “You knows the Bible as good as anybody?”

    “Hardly!” she said, laughing. “The more I learn,” she admitted, “the more I realize how little I know.” Then she wagged a finger at the bride. “Now, you’d best be gettin’ yourself downstairs, Miss Drew. Pastor Tillman has arrived, and the guests are gatherin’ in the chapel. It’s a mighty pretty day for a wedding, ’specially for December!”

    “I have God to thank for that, too,” Drewry admitted, tugging at the long snug sleeves of her white velvet gown. With arms extended, she took a deep breath as Matilda fastened the tiny pearl buttons on each cuff. After fastening her mother’s cameo at the high, stand-up collar, Drewry picked up the bouquet fashioned of red roses, white poinsettias, and greenery from Chase’s hothouse, which he had delivered at dawn.

    “You gonna carry that to the altar, Miss Drew?”

    “I most certainly am, Matilda. Perhaps Chase and I will start a trend…bridegrooms delivering flowers to their brides, and brides carrying the bouquets to the altar.” She punctuated her statement with a merry giggle. “Well, I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be, so I suppose we should get this wedding started!”

    With Matilda leading the way, the women walked down the wide, curving staircase and onto the porch. Bridget saw that Claib had parked the carriage out front. He’d polished its chassis until the enamel gleamed like a black mirror. The farmhand cut quite a dashing figure in his long-tailed morning suit, and Bridget planned to tell him so the minute they returned to the kitchen to serve the guests at the reception. Bending low at the waist, Claib swept a gloved hand in front of him. “Your carriage awaits, m’lady,” he said, mimicking Pastor Tillman’s English butler.

    The sounds of laughter and chatter grew louder as the buggy neared the chapel. “They’re here!” a woman shouted.

    “Start the music!” hollered a man.

    As the four-piece string ensemble began to play Beethoven’s Ninth, Drewry stood beside her Uncle James at the back of the chapel. Such a lovely bride, Bridget thought. And this little church in the woods is lovely, too. The red holly berries trimming the roof winked merrily, and a soft garland filled the air with the fresh, clean scent of pine. Massive arrangements of red and white poinsettias, along with evergreen boughs, flanked the altar, where Mr. Auburn waited alone.

    But not for long.

    Bridget and Matilda, in their new store-bought frocks, stepped importantly down the aisle in time to the music and took their places in the Auburn family pew. Chase’s daughter, Sally, stepped up in front of Drewry, one hand in her basket, prepared to sprinkle rose petals along the path that her new mother’s high-topped white boots would take. Behind Sally, her brother, Sam, held the white satin pillow that cushioned the wedding band. Bridget smiled as he tugged at the collar of his shirt and smiled adoringly up at Drewry.

    The children love her so, and so does Mr. Auburn, Bridget thought. And it’s plain to see she loves them, too.

    Just then, the throbbing strains of the “Wedding March” poured from the organ’s pipes, filling the chapel as Pastor Tillman took his place at the altar. Bridget watched Chase, resplendent in his black suit, as he focused on Drewry, the object of his hopes and dreams and promises soon to be fulfilled. “I love you,” he mouthed to her.

    Bridget turned in her seat just in time to see the bride answer with a wink and a smile. Will I ever know love like that? she wondered, facing front again. Sighing, she felt her shoulders sag. Not likely, since all I do is work, work, work and save, save, save…. A feeling of guilt washed over Bridget, and she chastised herself for allowing such self-centered thoughts to enter her head. She had much to be grateful for, and this was Drewry and Chase’s day, after all!

    Still, the bride and groom’s for-our-eyes-only communication made her yearn for a love like theirs—a love that reached beyond the bounds of family, binding man to woman and woman to man, cloaking them in trust, friendship, and companionship forever.

    A chilly wind blew through the chapel, making Bridget shiver. Hugging herself, she focused on the rough-hewn cross that hung above the altar and, closing her eyes, prayed silently. Dear Lord, if it’s in Your plan, I wouldn’t mind havin’ a bit of love like that, for I’m weary of being cold and alone.


    Drewry’s Uncle James and his lady friend, Joy, had arrived two days earlier. In many ways, the handsome couple reminded Bridget of Chase and Drewry.

    Bridget and Joy had chatted while decorating the mansion. Joy, Bridget discovered, had been raised up north, near Baltimore. “Why, there’s a Baltimore, Ireland, too!” she’d said, excited at all she had in common with her new friend.

    Bridget hadn’t had as many opportunities to talk with Drewry’s uncle, so when she saw him during the reception, standing alone under the willow tree, she didn’t know quite how to approach him. His grief was raw and real, that much was plain to see. And she knew precisely what had destroyed his previous high-spirited mood. For as she’d been gathering plates and cups nearby, she’d overheard the conversation….

    James had dropped to one knee and taken Joy’s hand in his, then looked deep into her eyes and whispered hoarsely, “Miss Naomi Joy McGuire, will you do me the honor of becoming my bride?”

    So romantic! Bridget had thought. She’d been taught better than to eavesdrop, but if she’d made any attempt to move just then, she would have alerted them to her presence, and what if that destroyed the whole mood? Then Joy had blinked, swallowed hard, and stiffened her back. “I can’t, James,” she’d said. Then, snatching back her hand, she’d lifted the billowing blue satin of her skirt and raced across the lawn to the house.

    Hours passed before Bridget returned to collect the last of the dishes and glasses scattered about by the guests. Yet he still stood alone where she’d last seen him. “Is there anything I can do for you, sir?”

    Without looking up, James shook his head.

    “Won’t you come inside and let me brew you a cup of tea?”

    But he only shook his head again.

    “But sir, ye’re pale as a ghost, and I can’t in good conscience leave you here alone. I’ll make a pest of myself, if I must, to get you inside, where it’s warm.” She gestured toward the yard. “Ye’ll catch yer death if you stay out here.”

    When he gave no response, she linked her arm with his and led him to the house, chattering nonstop the whole way about the way Pastor Tillman had nearly choked on a wad of tobacco before pronouncing Drewry and Chase husband and wife; about the perfect weather, the delicious food, the pretty decorations…anything but the ceremony itself. “My name is Bridget, sir,” she said as they approached the front porch. “Bridget McKenna.”

    The way he climbed the steps, Bridget couldn’t help but picture the tin soldiers lined up on the shelf at McDoogle’s Store back home. The poor man had found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his days with, and her refusal had broken his spirit. Surely, Joy had a good reason for saying no, but that didn’t stop Bridget from feeling sorry for him.

    Once inside, she stopped at the parlor door. “Why not have a seat there by the fire? I’ll fetch you a nice hot cup of tea.”

    “I think I’d rather just go to bed.”

    As she opened the door to his room, she said, “If you need anything, anything at all, just ring for me.”

    Though he nodded as he stepped into the room, Bridget had a feeling he wouldn’t ring. In fact, something told her she might not see him at all before he returned to Baltimore. “Well,” she muttered as he closed the door, “I don’t suppose all matches are made in heaven….”

    “Like Drewry and Chase, you mean?”

    A tiny shriek escaped her lungs. “Land sakes, man,” she said, recognizing Lance. “Ye’ll be the death of me, sure!” Bridget regarded him with a wary eye. “Ye’ve got cat’s paws for feet. How else can I explain how you slink around without making a sound?”

    Chuckling, Lance pocketed both hands. “I wasn’t slinking. You were so deep in thought, a herd of cattle could have thundered through here, and you wouldn’t have noticed until the dust cleared.”

    Bridget raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I might’ve noticed a wee bit before then.” Pointing at his feet, she said, “There’d have been the stink of the stuff you’ve tracked across my clean floor to bring me around.” Planting both fists on her hips, she met his eyes. “Perhaps you have been raised as fine as those fancy airs you put on, Mr. York, for no self-respecting stable hand would enter the master’s house without first puttin’ his soles to the boot scrape by the servants’ entrance!”


    Lance glanced down at his boots and the telltale clumps of mud and horse manure that showed the path he’d taken since entering the foyer. Feeling strangely like an errant child caught sneaking cookies before dinner, he was about to inform her that although this was indeed a grand mansion, it sat upon fertile pastureland. Did she really expect everyone who entered to wipe his boots? And who did she think she was, anyway, scolding him as if he were an ordinary—

    Yet the moment he looked into her eyes to deliver his rebuttal, Lance’s ire abated. She was perhaps the loveliest creature he’d ever seen, tiny and feminine and just scrappy enough to be reckoned with. A mass of shining brick-red waves framed her heart-shaped face, and even after a long day of tending to and tidying up after wedding guests, her milky skin glowed with healthy radiance, making the pale freckles sprinkling her nose even more noticeable.

    And those eyes! He’d seen her before, both up close and from a distance. Why hadn’t he noticed how large and thickly lashed they were?

    “So, there’s another lesson yer ma obviously didn’t teach you. First, you thoughtlessly mess up the floors, and then, you stare like a simpleton.”

    Lance blinked, then frowned in response to her anger. “What? I—I wasn’t—”

    “You were, and you still are,” she interrupted him, crossing her arms over her chest as she lifted her chin.

    If he didn’t know better, he’d say she was daring him to disagree!

    Lance had no earthly idea where the thought came from, but, suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to grasp the narrow shoulders she’d thrown back in defiance and kiss her square on those full, pink lips. Sweet Jesus, he prayed, keep me true to my vow….

    Newly resolved and strengthened, he straightened to his full five-foot eleven-inch height. “I didn’t mean to track dirt into the house,” he said at last. “If you like, I’ll help you clean it up. And you have my word, it won’t happen again.”

    Grinning, she wiggled her perfectly arched brows. “Oh, that won’t be necessary.” Then, “I suppose I could have been a mite gentler with you, now, couldn’t I?” On the heels of a deep breath, Bridget added, “It’s been a long, hard day, not that that’s a good excuse for my harshness.” With one hand up to silence his denial, she continued, “I set aside a bit of cake and lemonade. Will you let me get it for you, as a peace offerin’?”

    Truth was, he’d stuffed himself at the reception and had no idea where he’d put another bite of food, so his answer surprised him. “Only if you’ll share it with me.”

    She turned on her heel and, wiggling a finger over her shoulder, said, “Then follow me, English.”

    He did, too, like a pup on his boy’s heels. As they made their way down the stairs, she said, “What you said earlier….”

    Lance fell into step beside her. “In response to your ‘not all matches are made in heaven’ comment?”

    Rounding the corner into the kitchen, she nodded. “How’d you know that’s what I meant?”

    He straddled a stool and leaned both elbows on the table. No woman had ever willingly served him before, unless he counted roadside tavern maids. Lance rather enjoyed watching Bridget bustling about, preparing the snack that had been her idea. “I overheard what went on between Drewry’s uncle and his lady friend, too,” he said. His smile became a frown. “Sad, the way she treated the bloke.”

    Bridget laid a neatly folded napkin near his left elbow and unceremoniously plopped a silver fork atop it. “Now, let’s not be too quick to judge, English. We have no way of knowing why she said what she did.”

    By the time she set the tall goblet of lemonade near the tines of his fork, he was all but scowling. “It’s been my experience,” he began, “that women don’t need a reason to be cruel.” He sat up straighter and feigned a dainty pose. “You’re such a darling man,” he sighed in a high-pitched falsetto. “Is that your heart?” he asked, pointing a dainty finger at his imaginary tablemate’s chest. Then, his hand formed an ugly claw as he pretended to tear into the invisible man’s rib cage. “I’ve got it!” he all but shouted, pretending to stuff it into his mouth.

    Bridget stood gawking with one hand on her hip and then wrinkled her nose. “After ye’ve learned to wipe yer feet,” she said, sliding the cake plate in front of him, “we’ll have a go at teachin’ you how to make interesting table conversation.” After taking a sip of her own lemonade, she sat down across from him. “A body could only guess from that sorry demonstration that you’ve been wounded a time or two by love.”

    “Not really,” he said around a bite of frosting. “And I’m sorry for the outburst.”

    Smiling, she pressed a hand to his forearm. “You can apologize for scarin’ the soul from m’body, for dirtyin’ my floor.” Leaning closer, Bridget narrowed her eyes. “But don’t ever let me hear you say you’re sorry for what you feel, English.”

    Resting his elbow on the table, Lance let the empty fork dangle from his hand. “What have you got against the English, if you don’t mind my asking?” Slicing off another hunk of cake, he added, “Keep in mind, I’m English only on my father’s side….”

    Sighing, Bridget sat back. “Have you ever been to Ireland?”

    Lance shook his head.

    “And what do you know about the way your people dealt with the Irish during the famine?”

    In place of an answer, Lance only shrugged.

    She folded her hands on the tabletop. “Now, I’ll warn ye, ’tisn’t a pretty story.” Winking, she looked from side to side, as if in search of a spy. “And there’s a good chance you’ll dislike your folks as much as I do when I’ve finished.” Pausing, she said, “You sure you want me to go on?”

    “I’m sure,” he said with a grin.

    And for the next hour, she held him spellbound with her tale.

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